Gay rights group challenges Defense of Marriage Act

Gay rights group challenges Defense of Marriage Act

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[JURIST] Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) [advocacy website] filed suit Thursday in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] challenging [text, PDF; press release] the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. DOMA defines marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman. The suit alleges that DOMA unconstitutionally denies gay and lesbian service members equal protection under the law. The suit further alleges that “[t]here is no enumerated power in the Constitution that allows the federal government to define marriage in such a way as to deny Plaintiffs the benefits they seek, and the Tenth Amendment entrusts the regulation of marriage to the states.” The plaintiffs are seeking:

[T]he same recognition, family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the military has provided and currently provides to opposite-sex spouses of current and former service members. These benefits include medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military ID cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemeteries.

Major Shannon McLaughlin, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said that she had a “duty” to fight for equality [Advocate report]. Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) [advocacy website] is expected to file a brief in support of SLDN’s lawsuit.

In September Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) [10 USC § 654; JURIST backgrounder] was officially repealed [JURIST report]. With the repeal of the law, the military can no longer prevent gays and lesbians from serving openly among its ranks. US President Barack Obama [official website] told gay rights activists earlier this month that he would continue to fight for the repeal [JURIST report] of DOMA, reinforcing that the DOJ is not defending its constitutionality. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] announced in March that he was launching a legal advisory group to defend [JURIST report] DOMA, stating “[t]he constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts, not by the president unilaterally, and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.” In February, congressional Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act [text], which was intended to repeal DOMA [JURIST report], but it has not yet passed. A July 2010 ruling [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts found that Section 3 of DOMA violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment and State Sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment [text]. Currently DOMA allows other states to ignore those recognized same-sex marriages, and prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits available to married couples.